Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These Conditions Reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Congratulations to three new mountain bike leaders who passed their TCL today. Emma, Chris and Callum all did a great job today on our varied ride around Invergarry and demonstrated all the requirements to work as trail cycle leaders. These include group management, navigation, trail side bike fixes and dealing with accidents and incidents. We had great fun on the trails and the sun came out between the showers which are falling as snow on the summits still!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Today we combined a family rope tricks adventure in Glen Nevis with a bit of scrambling rope work coaching so the family can go and enjoy some scrambles independently. Andy, Claire, Phoebe and Archie were all up for a mixed bag of climbing, dangling and learning at Poldubh, all of which turned out to be a lot of fun.

We started out by climbing Scimitar Ridge which provides excellent scrambling made up of short tricky steps with grass and rock ledges in between. The views are brilliant too. We covered some moving together with the whole family on the rope, using slings and Italian hitches, body belaying and taking coils on your shoulder to shorten the rope. We threw in an abseil on the way back down as well, watched by a few deer just below.

Next up we went past the insect eating flowers and moss that's useful for dressing open wounds to The Alp where we set up a brilliant zip wire. While we were sliding down the rope a deer casually looked at us and wandered off to nibble at some fresh shoots.

Not done yet, we went down to the Lower Falls and put in a Tyrolean Traverse across the waterfall. It was raining by then anyway so getting a little more wet in the spray from the waterfall was fine. It was a chilly day again though with fresh snow on the highest tops. The snow line will come down much lower tomorrow and it will remain cold for another week perhaps.

There is a lot of fun to be had doing all sorts of rope tricks in Glen Nevis for any family. If it is dry or wet, climbing, abseiling, sliding or jumping, come and enjoy some family adventures.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Lochaber and Lorn Ramblers are nudging the envelope of ramblers in the UK. After winter skills courses and an avalanche awareness course in the winter we went for some scrambling training today. We went to Glen Coe, the home of scrambling in mainland Britain.

On the Pink Rib of Beinn a'Chrualiaste we looked at movement skills in ascent, focussing on balance and body position to make the most of the holds available. We explored the friction on the clean rhyolite and route choice decisions. We also looked at how to make someone else in the team more secure.

After doing all this in ascent with one of the best views in Lochaber we turned round and went straight back down again. Scrambling in descent presents more of a challenge and we explored how to move down the rock steps with confidence and control. Scrambling opens up a huge number of routes that are beyond hill walking and is a great way to get away from it all, physically and mentally.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Summer Mountain Leader assessment courses have a three day expedition in wild, remote mountains to test the candidates leadership, navigation and camping skills. It is an assessment of the whole package as mountain leaders. These last three days were certainly quite testing and the candidates all did a fantastic job.

We went to Lochailort to walk over Roisbheinn and Drium Fiaclach with two nights out in high wild camps. The first day was quite nice with amazing views out to the islands of Eigg and Rhum. We had a bit of mist on the top of Roisbheinn but it stayed dry all day and for the night navigation as well.

Then it started raining. It rained all the second day, into the evening and for most of the second night. Streams were swollen, the ground was saturated and everything got really quite soggy! Thankfully our route was a brilliant ridge with very narrow sections and excellent views (apparently). Druim Fiaclach west ridge in particular demands careful route choice and some movement over rocky sections in exposed positions.

Camping out for two successive nights is much more than twice as tricky than camping out for one night. If anything is wet after the first night it will be very wet after the second night. The candidates (and assessors) were very well tested!

Thankfully my Jottnar gear was up to the challenge as were the candidates. They all worked very hard and put in a great performance. They will all go on to be excellent mountain leaders.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Day two of the West Highland College Summer ML Assessment took us to the East Face of Aonach Dubh. We were looking for steep, broken ground on which we could look at route choice, group management, and safeguarding people with and without a rope. We went to the small coire between Barn Wall and Far Eastern Buttress and we found plenty of interesting terrain.

There have been a couple of changes to the Summer Mountain Leader Syllabus in the last year or so including removing the use of ropes in stream crossings and the requirement to lower people down very steep crags. Instead we looked at safeguarding people on ground they could scramble down themselves. We did some abseiling too. However the use of a rope in the context of a Summer Mountain Leader is only in an emergency. Hopefully the candidates will manage to avoid emergencies in the future once they are qualified.

Monday, 18 May 2015

In a contrast to yesterday, today I started a Summer Mountain Leader Assessment course with students at West Highland College. The first day covers all sorts of things such as navigation, what equipment to carry, managing incidents and medical problems, improvised carries, stream crossings and lots of regulations and administrative details regarding mountain leading. It was a cool day with showers falling as snow above 900m!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

I was pleased to get a PB (personal best) today. 17th May is now the latest I have completed an ice climb in a Scottish winter season. Kieron and I were up on Ben Nevis to take some photos for the Jottnar website and we were given some very authentic weather for it. Fresh snow was down to the CIC Hut in the morning and icy rime had formed on the rocks higher up. The fresh snow was about 30cm deep in most places and there were some small avalanches in several places.

Kieron and I played about on the lowest section of Tower Ridge for a while and I was think how different it was just three days ago when I climbed it with Kees and Jeroen in warm sunshine. We also went up to climb Tower Scoop, a nice grade III climb underneath Tower Gully. The ice was fat and plentiful. It was also completely solid with no booking or detached ice at all. I'm sure Hadrian's Wall Direct would have been nice to climb today as well as Indicator Wall and Smith's Route. The spindrift would have been a bit challenging at times though!

The weather forecast this week looks cold and with further snow showers above about 900m. I remember a couple of years ago, there was significantly more snow on the summit of Ben Nevis at the end of May than at the start. I wonder if this year will be the same.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

For Jeroen and Kees's second day in Scotland and second day of climbing we went for the super classic Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. Even though it is mid-May and we have had some warm sunny days we took ice axes and crampons. There is still extensive general snow cover and I thought the top sections of the ridge would be icy. I was not wrong.

In fact there is snow at the bottom of Douglas Boulder and in Douglas Gap East Gully. All of this was soft enough by the time we got there for us just to kick steps. There was a good freeze last night though and there was ice in a couple of shady spots. The first narrow section above the Douglas Gap also had a nice snow crest on it.

The rock was completely dry all they way apart from where snow was melting and dripping onto the rock. There are a few patches of snow below and above the Little Tower but again it was all soft enough when we were there in the sunshine for kicking good steps.

On the Eastern Traverse there is some icy snow and care is required to go around the last bit of the traverse. The Fallen Block Chimney is still full of snow but it is easy to go around to the left of the block. Tower Gap is dry but the very last section onto the plateau is steep hard snow and crampons are recommended for this bit.

There was one other team on the North Face climbing ice on Observatory Buttress and there were plenty of people enjoying the warm sunshine on top. A few big gullies were skied yesterday including Number Three Gully and Number Two Gully and we were admiring the tracks today.

To top off an amazing two days of climbing we got very close to some red deer on the way down to the van! If only it was always this nice in Scotland! Then again, if it was we would get no snow and ice to play on and that just would not be right.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Yesterday was a very wet day for climbing Curved Ridge. Andy, Bob and I had a great time and the guys did a fantastic job on their first scramble. By Contrast, today was dry and warm in the sunshine which came through quite often. I was climbing on the crags of Poldubh in Glen Nevis with Jeroen and Kees from Holland. This was their first trip to Scotland and their first taste of rock climbing and we got on very well indeed.

We started at Upper Pinnacle Buttress to look at tying in to the end of a rope, belaying and lowering down a climb. Then we spent the rest of the day at The Alp climbing The Gutter, Right Wall of Styx Buttress, Pine Wall, Eigerwand and the classic Resurrection. Not a bad haul of climbs for a first taste of rock climbing. We got the guys abseiling well and belaying lead climbers, taking out protection and dismantling belays. All good skills to be competent seconds.

After the rain yesterday there were many wet cracks and seeps coming down the rock. Resurrection climbs well despite the wet patch which is more than you can say for some of the other climbs on Styx Buttress. Today I was working for Active Highs which is a great company that also does canyoning, rafting and lots of other activities.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Victor and I went for a quick spin up to the CIC Hut today. We had a hard frost last night with higher pressure bringing a calm clear night. There was thick ice on the path below the hut and plenty of dribbles of ice on the crags. The snow was frozen hard in the shade and the ice climbing looked good. I have climbed grade V ice in May only once before but I have never seen as much good ice climbing in May as today.

Not very surprisingly though there was nobody out climbing! I would have been out climbing but Victor is only one year old and springer spaniels are not so good at ice climbing anyway. I was on my bike though and the Allt a'Mhuillin trail is one of the best rides in Scotland. You then have a choice of great forest trails to choose from too. We went down Top Top Secret which was a bit slippy after the recent rain and all the more fun for it. I'm not sure who had more fun, me or Victor. Spaniels seem to run just for the joy of it but I think I had even more fun on my bike.

The weather forecast has one more cold day (Saturday) before a warm front brings the thaw on Sunday. Mixed and warmer weather next week might just bring this wonderful winter to an end.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Spring is very much in the air with lambs in the fields and flowers out in the glens. It feels like summer is just round the corner. However the top half of Ben Nevis needs to catch up; it is falling behind the seasons.

Emma and I walked up Ben nevis today on the first of our scheduled Ben Nevis group walks. We had crampons and ice axes and there was a fall of fresh snow on the summit from last night. Above corner one after crossing the Red Burn the patch is half covered in snow but you can manage to keep off most of it untill you reach 1000m. Above here the ground is nearly all covered with snow and the trail disappears. Half the cairns are covered too so navigation in the mist is tricky.

On the summit there is 2m depth of old compacted snow. The platform that the trig points stands on is totally covered so that just the trig point is visible. Cornices line the top of the North Face. Emma and I used crampons from 1100m to the summit and all the way back down to corner two. The snow is soft enough in the Red Burn for a great slide to make it easier on the legs in descent. All this snow could melt away given some warm and wet weather. There is none of this forecast though for a while yet.